Feed birds in winter with berry-bearing plants

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CORVALLIS, Ore. – When winter comes and the menu for birds shrinks in urban backyards, they rely on the kindness of humans.

That doesn’t mean just a bird feeder of seeds and nuts.

“Different birds are attracted to different foods and it’s good to have a variety,” said Dana Sanchez, a wildlife specialist for Oregon State University’s Extension Service. “In addition to bird feeders, which people sometimes forget to fill, they need plants to forage on.”

This time of year, you’ll notice winter wrens, pine siskins, scrub jays, chickadees and robins. All are searching for food to give them the energy they need to survive the prolonged stress of cold and wet weather.

“Birds need a lot of energy to make it through cold nights,” according to Sanchez. “They can’t eat during the night, and they burn off whatever food calories they found during the day.”

Fortunately, birds have feathers – the ultimate down jacket, she said. They fluff them and huddle together to reduce heat loss. And shivering keeps muscles warmer. For all that, they still need the right foods for energy production. A few insects remain, flying around or hiding under moss and lichen ripe for the picking. Some plants, like thistle, hold on to seeds that birds fit into their diet. Plants with berries full of good fat provide necessary nutrients, too. Take a look at Sanchez’s suggestions and consider adding some berry bearers to your garden.

Plants with berries for birds

Dana Sanchez’s picks for plants with berries for birds:

Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) breaks out in brilliant yellow flowers in mid-winter that leave behind bunches of blue-black berries. The state flower of Oregon grows to an erect 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Hardy to Zone 5.

Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri) was named for a reason: The exquisite violet to purple berries in mid-winter stop people in their tracks. This shrub puts on a good display at the back of the border where its 6-by-6-foot stature has room to develop. The cultivar ‘Profusion’ exhibits an especially abundant number of berries. Hardy to Zone 5.

Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) is recognized for distinctive clusters of white berries that last well into winter. At 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide and rather rangy, snowberry makes a great choice for a bird-friendly hedgerow and its vigorous roots will help with erosion control on slopes. Hardy to Zone 3.

Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa) takes some room to accommodate its 6-foot height and width, but it’s more than worth the space. Long inflorescences of white flowers with purple bracts hang from the shrub for an extended time in summer and fall and are followed by berries that start out green, turn deep red and then purplish black with all three colors on the plant at once. Hardy to Zone 6.

Pacific wax myrtle (Myrica californica) is an evergreen that grows up to 30 feet at maturity, making it a popular option for a screen or small tree in the garden. A Pacific Northwest native, wax myrtle presents purplish berries in fall that persist into the winter months. Hardy to Zone 7.

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